Kobe Bryant’s retirement from basketball hasn't been much of a retirement. After ending his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers last year, the former NBA star has kept himself busy as creator of the ESPN video series ‘Canvas’ and as creative director of a campaign for BodyArmor, a sports drink brand in which Bryant is an investor.
But perhaps the project closest to Bryant’s heart is the short film Dear Basketball, which made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival over the weekend. The six-minute film, which is based off of a poem of the same name that Bryant wrote when announcing his retirement in 2015, was animated by famed Disney animator Glen Keane. Keane, who animated iconic Disney characters including The Little Mermaid’s Ariel and the beast from Beauty and the Beast, left Disney in 2012 to start his own firm.
During a talk with Michael Strahan at the Tribeca Film Festival, Keane and Bryant discussed collaborating on Dear Basketball and how they worked together to bring the poem to life on screen.
When asked why he wanted to turn his poem into an animated film, Bryant explained that when it comes to inspiring kids and young athletes, he believes that a story about his career is far more likely to resonate than advice or words of wisdom.
“The best way to inspire the next generation of athletes is through stories,” he said. “You can sit here and say things, say ‘you need to be devoted and work hard,’ but if you do it through stories then it tends to sink in more.”
While onstage, the two shared that one of their first bonding moments as creative collaborators came when they realized that they both have found inspiration throughout their careers from an unlikely source: Beethoven.
“Glen was inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth to animate the transformation of the Beast, and I was inspired by Beethoven’s Fifth in game six of the playoffs versus the Denver Nuggets” said Bryant. “We both had Beethoven as a foundation of inspiration, and it was just interesting to have that connectivity. From that, we were able to kind of build [the] building blocks of our creative process.”
When discussing the film’s music, which was created by composer John Williams of Star Wars fame, Bryant said he thinks the kind of work that Keane and Williams do has become a sort of “lost art” since it requires so much time and diligence.
“How they perform their art is really becoming a lost art because of the rush of how quickly we want to turn projects around and digitizing everything,” he said. “To be able to work with these two on this project has been crazy.”
In terms of next steps for Bryant, the basketball pro said he’s not looking to take on coaching or become a sports commentator. Instead, he said he wants to use his basketball expertise to focus on telling more stories.
“I could sit and coach 15 guys or I could commentate on a game, but I feel like if I can [instead tell] a story, then that’s something that will live much, much longer,” he said. “If you can see an executional thing or an adjustment that a player has made during a game and understand the connectivity of that adjustment to human nature, then I believe I’ve done something more."